Chapter 3: Strong Words
For ages, it seemed as if the world below her remained in chaos. One group of men traded and used another group the same as they traded and used livestock. The word they used was slavery, a term she considered vile and lacking honor. She knew this was wrong and even more so when they would come with the ropes to teach lessons to the oppressed.
Her heart ached for years at the uncivility that raged around her. Then she heard the dark ones whispering of new hope. A white man far away spoke strong words condemning this practice of keeping others as slaves. He ordered it to stop and yet those that kept the slaves refused. Once again, the ugly sounds of war eventually raged around her. This war was for all the right reasons, but why couldn’t they simply talk? Why couldn’t they see that their kind was the same no matter what their color was?
As the red ones had done years before, these creatures refused to see such a simple thing. Red, white, dark…they were all the same. She knew because she had watched them from the start. How could one think they were better? The man from the North said that all men were created equal, good sound words, and yet the men here refuted that claim. As much as she hated war, this one she would favor.
For long years, the war raged until one day, as in the past, the echo of cannons faded. The man from the North had won and the dark ones would be free at last. Her heart rejoiced in the prospect as she listened to the dark children that played at her feet. Below her in the valley, the white men allowed the dark ones to stay on their lands and in exchange for their work, they received a small amount of profit. At long last, the world around her was in peace.
Yet, the dark ones were still fearful. They had achieved freedom, but they were not free. Nor were they the equals that the man from the North said they would be. They were still abused and maligned at every turn. Then, one dark and terrible night, the scene she had hated for so long unfolded again. Men dressed in long white robes dragged a young dark man to her feet. Masks covered their faces and yet the hatred they held was visible to all. The torches they held were the light of ignorance and hate and on this night, as the rope once more found its way around her arm, it shone brightly.
Despite what was said, despite the war and despite the promise of freedom, these dark men and women were still shackled by hatred. The ignorant pressed their will through fear and intimidation upon them. And when any would object, the masked riders would come in the night. They would bring the offender to her and to her sadness and horror, they used her strength to steal life. For more time she would have to suffer the indignity of being the instrument of their foul deeds. Many times, she would look to the skies and beg for release from this mortal world, this life of sadness. As always, the sky would whisper for her to wait.
Eventually, the midnight meetings at her feet ended. The lands below her changed and where long fields once grew crops, buildings rose. Highways replaced dirt roads because things the men called cars replaced horses. The people seemed to change as well yet she still heard them talking of wars in far off places.
The ground around her became pure once more and the skies filled with birds again. Not far from her was a place the men called school. She could hear the children there, laughing and playing and she was content to watch them grow. As time passed, more buildings grew around her in every direction. The men left her area alone and called it a park. On some days, she would feel the passions of the children as they scampered under her loving gaze. In her loftiest arms, birds built their nests and the sound of new life filled her ears every spring.
She had finally found the peace she felt in her youth. Though ancient now, her heart was light and airy again and she felt as if she would live for another thousand years. She smiled at the sky and thanked it for allowing her to go on when her heart was at its lowest. She remembered its words so long ago, its admonition to wait and it had been right.
Then, one day men and women came to see her. They carried papers with drawings on them and pointed to where the shacks of the dark ones had been so long ago. They all nodded and agreed on something she couldn’t understand. Days later, more men came and started digging near her. Before long, she found herself surrounded by a fence so that the children could no longer play at her feet.
The other men and women returned one day, dressed in their finest clothes and many others followed them. They had covered a portion of the fence with some cloth and now they made a fuss about it. With a great hoorah, they pulled the cloth and all the people clapped and cheered. Soon after, she watched as small shacks were built nearby and statues that looked like the dark ones were erected.
Then a man came one day with other people and started showing them around. She listened intently to what he was saying. He was telling the people of the horror the dark ones lived in both before and after the war. Then as they turned to walk away, he stopped them before her and spoke the words that would haunt her for the rest of her days;
“And the last stop here on the tour is this magnificent oak,” he said earnestly. “This was the feared Hangin’ Tree where so many of the slaves lost their lives. She’s old, dark and twisted and never a more hated tree existed.”
As the people walked away, one small child turned and looked at her. As his mother tried to pull him away, he resisted.
“I heard something Mama,” he said. “It sounded like someone crying…”